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The Wretched | Audio
By Nick Allen Cooke
Nick Allen Cooke is a 31-year-old writer from Orlando, FL who is a producer of freelance web content for an online writing service provider. Though plying a lot of his trade in the realm of non-fiction, he is an avid fiction enthusiast and loves all things dark, strange, and twisted.
       They are the secret soldiers of the nefarious overlords; the subterranean underlings of a strange and unimaginable underworld. They lurk in the alleys and scurry in the sewers, lying in wait for dusk to settle. Oh, you may see one during daylight hours, but they are at their most vicious after night has fallen.
       It was merely a week ago that I nearly met my fate at the filthy hands of one such miscreant. It began like all my other encounters with the Wretched – a blink, a tear, a look of solace. It was a cunning subterfuge on their part, I must admit. For appeal to a man's heart and so opens the path to his ruin. I had seen it one too many times, and I decided long ago that I was going to fight back.
       I was not alone in my battle. There was a network of visionaries -- rebels who could not only see the writing on the wall, but who had the courage to do something about it. I joined their ranks, initially, as a courier. Along my journeys, I had been privileged to take council with some of the Protectors' most valiant leaders – men and women of vision, with the convictions to rid the city of this cancer that maligned it.
       The city was bitterly cold that morning. Steam was rising from the storm drains in such billowy wisps – I had pause to entertain thoughts of the street erupting from its innards. It would serve us right. The city was a crumbling vision; a decrepit beauty queen, years past her prime and yearning with the memories of her golden years. I surveyed the decaying skyline, thinking all the while that this was what got us here – got us in this terrible mess to begin with. Our city had deteriorated to the point where they willed it to be theirs. Clawing their wretched claws and grinding their wretched teeth, these vermin were mounting an uprising. We, the Protectors, had precious little time left before the city would fall into their clutches for good.
       Seven days ago, I had been en route to one of our outlying bases. I had plans to meet with my superior – a man named Brodreck – and I was barely yet on my journey when it happened. I recall only the rush of fear and adrenaline mixed when I had dared that glance over the back of my shoulder.
       I had one following me.
       Sure, there had been others walking the street, but I could feel his eyes glaring squinty slits into the back of my head. He had known who I was, who I belonged to – oh, there was no doubt in my mind. My frantic state had nearly propelled me to take off running, and perhaps in days prior I would have done just that, but I recall thinking there surely wasn't much that the scum could do to me out in the daylight... So I had thought.
       I had slowed my pace and eventually stopped altogether. My pulse was hammering so hard – he surely could have seen the vein in my neck throbbing as I slowly turned around to meet him. I was thoroughly disgusted by what I saw: a shifty little animal whose face was so mired in filth that one almost couldn't discern just what manner of being he was. His right appendage was horribly disfigured – probably the result of some subterranean scuffle with the other deadly creatures that dwelled beneath the streets. This one had seen its share of battles; I had to be careful.
       "Uh, ‘scuse me, sir..." He had croaked, his manner teaming with feigned courtesy. "May I trouble you for a moment?"
       "I'll say this one time, so listen closely..." my hand had begun to tremble. "I want no part of your kind, no part of your war. You can sink your teeth into these lambs..." I waved my arms at the cowardly onlookers, "but not me."
       His eyes narrowed and lips drew back. He began to say something but thought better of it. The charade was of no use with me and he knew it. I could see the fury building in him – a kettle steaming and shaking with undeniable fervor. His hands clenched and unclenched, clenched and unclenched... I could feel his transformation taking place, but it had been too late.
       A wave of foul breath washed over me when he growled. There would be no more words; I had made my bed, and the struggle that ensued was quick and intense. He lashed out with his good hand, swiping me with his vicious claws. There was no telling what infectious contagions lived under those yellow nails. I stumbled backwards in supreme shock from the attack, and if not for the ugly beast tripping over a curb I would surely have never escaped with my life.
       With an irrepressible shudder, I shook the nasty thoughts from my head and continued along my way. The steamy fog continued to rise from the street, urging my sensibilities to keep a vigil lookout for any stray Wretched who were still prowling from the night before.
       My current mission was of significant importance. Brodreck had bid me deliver a piece of sensitive information – information detailing the Wretched's activities, not least of which the despicable assault on myself. My initial contact was Kelly – the personal consort of a man known as Connelly, commander of our central depot in the heart of the city. I was to contact Kelly after arriving at the compound and, if I managed to clear their initial questioning, would then be granted council with Connelly himself.
       "Things are looking up, Dex." I said to myself in spite of the citizens around me. Poor bastards. They will be the first to go when the Wretched turn on this city.
       And turn they will.
       The journey to the central compound was swift and uneventful. I kept a vigorous pace the entire way, not wanting tardiness to be the impression garnered by Connelly and his men. When I reached the outer walls, I couldn't help but stand frozen. It was absolutely perfect – a sturdy, yet unassuming building that one would never guess the inhabitants of which were toiling within hidden rooms, delving into the heart of our struggle with the disgusting prowlers and devising the architecture of their demise.
       I walked up to the first check point – a revolving mechanism that scanned the body for any manner of foreign object – and felt my breath quicken. I knew that I had nothing to hide. But all manner of thoughts began to swirl through my head... What if the DNA of that belligerent Wretched lay dormant under my wounded skin and they think I am one of them? What if Brodereck's correspondence – which I held diligently under my arm – was orders to have me imprisoned in some backroom chamber of torturous horrors? In these times, no one could be trusted; I knew this better than any. I could do nothing but cling to hope. Hope and determination.
       As the mechanical scanner churned, I took one final breath and prepared myself. The first step was tumultuous beyond expression – I couldn't help but falter in doing so as the anticipation was nearly unbearable. Yet as I walked through the contraption, I began to feel an incredible sense of belongingness. I was on my way.
       The room in which I emerged was lit up brighter than I expected and, squinting till my eyes finally adjusted, the form of Kelly sitting stoically at the end of the room began to emerge. I made my presence known, and from then on all I could do was wait.

       The man in the pressed shirt and tie walked through the doorway, and with a half-weary sigh turned to his receptionist. "Who's my 9:30?" he asked.
       "Dexter Bartley." she said, handing him the file. "He's been transferred to you from Dr. Brodreck."
       He opened the file and in his usual manner scanned over the notes...
       ... has shown signs of cognitive dysfunction including paranoia and delusionary beliefs that he is being singled out for harm. Shows an extreme mistrust and hatred towards the homeless. On Dec. 8th was involved in an altercation with a vagrant, enforcing the delusion in the patient that all homeless people of New York are united in a violent plot to take over the city. Other symptoms of schizophrenia have included disorganized thought patterns and grandiose speech. Recommendation is 2-4 mgs of Risperidone daily.
       "Thanks Kelly," Dr. Connelly said. He opened the door to the waiting room.
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